Fire service cutback proposals to go under spotlight at council meetings next week
Councillors will meet next week to consider their response to plans by South Yorkshire Fire and Rescuer Service to reduce the number of firefighters on its engines.
Historically a crew of five have been expected on the first fire engine to turn out to emergencies but the service has to save millions of pounds to balance the books in future and has come up with an idea of cutting dozens of front line jobs to make that work.
Now Rotherham and Sheffield Councils are to debate the potential implications of the move and their decisions will be reported back to South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority, the political body which controls the service and will ultimately make the decision on whether or not to allow the change.
It would be a sensitive development because for firefighters to work safely at major incidents like house fires, nine need to be present which – at present – is met by the first two fire trucks to arrive.
With only four crew members on board, those attending 999 calls would have to wait for a third crew to arrive before they could start rescue and firefighting operations safely.
The Fire Brigades Union has objected to the plan and the fire authority has already held a special meeting to examine the way fire service consultations on the proposals have been developed.
The situation is complicated further because it remains unclear exactly how much money the service will have to save.
It has a black hole of more than £1m caused by the need to scrap a shift system at four stations which was introduced to save money but then deemed to be illegal following a court clash with the FBU.
There is also a national shortfall in pension funding which, unless the Government steps in to help, could see the authority having to put millions of pounds it had not budgeted for.
When consultations are complete, the fire authority will make a decision on how to proceed.